Daniela Speziale’s shared connections with poet Camillo Sbarbaro remind me of Robert Hass’ opening lines to Meditation at Lagunitas—“All the new thinking is about loss./In this it resembles all the old thinking.” These fresh translations speak of the recondite, archaic themes of poetry that interweave our lives across ages in a web that comforts as it contains. The translations also valorize a poet that has been all but forgotten, both locally and internationally.
— Mandakini Pachauri
The Bombay Literary Magazine
Considered by critics one of the masterpieces of early-1900s Italian poetry, Sbarbaro’s fame was eventually eclipsed by that of Italy’s major modernist authors, to a point where his work is today hardly remembered. Born in 1888 in Liguria, Camillo Sbarbaro dedicated his life to poetry, translation, and teaching. His writings show the influence of Leopardi’s ante-litteram existentialism, as well as Baudelaire’s “spleen” and alienation from reality; in turn, they had a profound mark on other Italian modernists, such as Nobel Prize winner Eugenio Montale. A major theme in Pianissimo, moreover, is Sbarbaro’s love for his sister and his aging father, to whom multiple poems are dedicated. These four poems were sourced from the 2001 edition of “Pianissimo”, the main poetry collection of Italian writer Camillo Sbarbaro, first published in 1914.
Translating Sbarbaro meant for me rediscovering my hometown Savona in Liguria (where he also lived), through new writerly eyes. I opted for a mostly literal translation, closely following not just the meanings but also the syntax and structure (including enjambments) of the original.
— Daniele Speziale
Not because You Are, Life
Not because you are, Life, a swift blaze
in the night, and neither for these
elements of Earth and sky in which
my horrible sadness finds repose:
rather, Life, for all your roses
which are either yet to bloom or already
withering away, for your Desire
which like the fable’s child leaves us
but with a handful of dead flies,
for the hatred we all carry for our own
self of yesterday, for the indifference
of everything to our divinest dreams,
for the inability to live but in the moment
like a sheep grazing through the world
now on this, now on that tuft of grass
without a care for anything else,
for the regret lying deep in every life
of having squandered it uselessly
like dirt on the bottom of a glass,
for the grand happiness of crying
and the eternal sadness of Love,
for the unknown and the infinite darkness,
for all this bitterness I love you, Life.
Maybe Someday, Sister
Maybe someday, sister, we’ll be able
to retreat to the hills, to a house
where to spend the rest of our life.
Father will be with us, though dead.
Around the house, we’ll see him move.
Then he’ll understand all the pain
that we went through hand in hand,
you a life, sister, without love,
I a life, sister, without deception.
And I shall then work on the other
purpose for which I live: to leave
a sign to the world that I too once was.
And when the delusion doesn’t suffice me
of living many a life through my art,
then your pain shall silence mine.
To feel closer and closer each day
we’ll sometimes remember all that was
and go over the places where as kids
we would walk holding our father’s hand,
for bitterness is our nourishment.
And if existence were to feel empty
and if the regret of a different life
occasionally chokes our throat,
then we’ll go to the only comforter.
For entire days we’ll remain
with our open hands on the grass
almost content to exist just for this.
And we shall thus live in company
of our big brothers, the rivers and woods,
at peace with our destiny.
For this to come true, sister, I vow
that my pain shall last as long as I do,
rather, that it may grow day by day.
Thus is the dream I dream with open eyes.
Joyful and Fearful I See You
Joyful and fearful I see you
fading day by day, my Pain.
Like the waking lover sneaking a look
at the visage of his sleeping beloved
feeling the coldness of the irreparable
gradual estrangement of their bodies,
every morning I wake up and find
your face a bit paler, o Pain,
‘til one day I might see in your place
the dull appearance of Habitude.
You who for a little while deceived
my aridity and with tears muddied
my clear eyes, weakening my sight,
and made me live all life in the moment,
now that I have learnt to love you alone,
o Pain, you too a passerby,
inexorably go your own way.
And if I had a chance to call you back
I might not even dare to do so.
But my true life comes along with you
for I do not live but when I suffer.
Waking Up in the Morning Sometimes
Waking up in the morning sometimes
such an acute repulsion I feel to come
back to life, that in my heart I’d vow
to die in that very instant.
Awakening then seems a rebirth
as the mind cleansed by oblivion
in slumber turned virgin once again
looks curiously over existence.
But experience emerges before her
like land as the tide recedes.
And so clearly becomes manifested
to her the irrationality of life,
that she rejects living and would rather
return to the limbo she came from.
In that moment I’m like those
who wake up on a ravine’s edge
the despairing hands fighting to push
the body backwards to no avail.
Like that abyss it fills me with dread
the desperate morning light.
Lee Teter. Reflections. Oil on canvas. 28″ (H) x 34″ (W).
Camillo Sbarbaro’s lead poem is a declaration of love to one who has been the situs of much pain. The poet has no choice but to confront this truth, lean against it, and as we, the Reader, reach for that gesture, recognising in it our own soul-embittering sorrows, art is made. Lee Teter achieved a painting. Sbarbaro, a poem.
Author | CAMILLO SBARBARO
Camillo Sbarbaro (Genoa, 1888- Savona, 1967) was an Italian poet and translator, and an influential figure of early-1900s Italian modernism. He debuted in the world of poetry with Pianissimo, 1914, an anthology which he edited throughout his life and which remains his most influential work. Drawing his inspiration from Leopardi’s existential pessimism and Baudelaire’s sense of “spleen”, Sbarbaro’s poetry in turn influenced that of modernist authors such as Nobel Prize winner Eugenio Montale. A humble and solitary man, Sbarbaro’s success was eventually eclipsed by that of Italy’s major 20th-century poets, his literary heritage being now largely neglected in the country.
Translator | DANIELE SPEZIALE
Daniele Speziale (1998-) graduated in MSc Development Studies from SOAS University Of London in 2022, and does social work in Kinshasa, D.R. Congo. He nurtures a passion for NGO work, intercultural encounters, and languages— having studied more than a dozen. Particularly fond of Urdu and Hindi, his translations reached finalist positions in the Jawad Memorial Prize and the Stephen Spender Prize. He publishes his Hindustani poetry with Rekhta under the pen-name of “Rahi Italvi”.